Following A Discovery Learning Approach To Instructional Design

Following A Discovery Learning Approach To Instructional Design
Summary: We humans are curious creatures. We are always striving to learn more about ourselves and the world around us, and seize every opportunity to soak up new knowledge. Discovery Learning capitalizes on this fact by encouraging learners to explore the subject matter. In this article, I'll share the ideologies and objectives of the Discovery Learning approach, as well as tips that can help you apply it in Instructional Design.

Discovery Learning In Instructional Design: Objectives, Principles And Tips

Jerome Bruner introduced Discovery Learning in the 1960's [1], which is an inquiry-based approach that encourages learners to seek out information on their own. Instead of simply being handed the solution to a problem, a learner must use their preexisting knowledge and available resources to arrive at their own conclusion. According to Bruner, instructors serve as facilitators who create lessons and training materials that provide the necessary structure and basic information. For this reason, Discovery Learning in eLearning is considered to fall into the area of constructivism, as the learner takes an active role in the eLearning process and interprets the concepts and ideas autonomously.

The Primary Objectives Of Discovery Learning

According to Jerome Bruner, there are two primary goals that eLearning professionals should keep in mind when designing Discovery Learning experiences:

  1. Discovery Learning should serve as an extension of the constructivism theory, which focuses on learner-centric experiences.
  2. Discovery Learning should offer learners the structure they need to research the subject matter on their own. In this respect, it serves as a guide that learners can follow in order to expand their comprehension.

The 5 Key Principles Of Discovery Learning

Based on Bruner's beliefs, successful Discovery Learning should follow these 5 key principles:

  1. Curriculum should focus on the development of problem-solving skills. Inquiry and discovery are two processes that can aid learners in this pursuit.
  2. All of the subject matter should reflect how a learner perceives the world. This involves audience research, such as skills assessments and questionnaires, in order to identify their point of view.
  3. The core curriculum should center on skill mastery, so that learners can gradually master even more useful and powerful skills.
  4. The course should allow learners to organize concepts and expand their knowledge base through self-exploration.
  5. Instructors should consider that culture shapes learners' beliefs, values, and the way they perceive themselves and the world around them.

5 Tips For Designing Discovery Learning Online Experiences

  1. Choose the ideal self-guided eLearning activities.
    To create a truly effective Discovery Learning online course, you must offer your learners self-guided eLearning activities that they can use to explore the subject matter autonomously. Ideally, these eLearning activities should offer small amounts of information spread out over time to reduce cognitive overload. For example, a brief eLearning scenario or serious game can give them the opportunity to absorb and retain the information, even if they may be distracted or short on time.
  2. Keep learners on track.
    One of the major pitfalls of Discovery Learning is that learners have the potential to spiral out of control. This is particularly the case when learners don't have any guidance or structure. Thus, you should always be on hand, or enlist the aid of a moderator, in order to keep learners on track and offer any assistance along the way. If you notice that an individual is veering off the eLearning course and is unable to concentrate on the task, then you may need to intervene and provide them with additional support resources.
  3. Be a guide, not a director.
    Discovery Learning is all about letting your learners explore and, as the name suggests, discover the solution on their own. Therefore, your role is not to direct or instruct them, but to point them in the right direction. You must give them the foundations on which they can build upon, then serve as a guide moving forward. This often requires that you step away from the eLearning activity and merely observe their progress. If you notice that they are struggling, then it may be time to offer a word, encouragement, or advice.
  4. Give them time to explore and reflect.
    Nothing will be gained by rushing through a Discovery Learning online course. In fact, you must give your learners plenty of time to fully explore the subject matter, arrive at their own conclusions, and then reflect on the process. Unlike traditional eLearning courses, Discovery Learning courses often require more time and motivation. This is due to the fact that learners do not have a facilitator walking them through every step of the process. Instead, they must set out on their own in search of the answers. Those who are not motivated or determined to succeed may need an extra push, possibly in the form of leaderboards or badges that they can earn as they progress.
  5. Spark meaningful online discussions.
    After your learners have finished the eLearning activity or assessment, encourage them to discuss the process and the outcome with their peers. Create an online forum where they can get invaluable feedback, or schedule regular online group chats using video conferencing tools. The key is to get them talking about what they learned and how they learned it, so that they can fine tune their mental processes and learning behaviors. At this point, you can also identify which learners excelled on their own and which may need more assistance. You may even wish to pair them up with another peer who can serve as mentor.

The Discovery Learning approach gives your learners the opportunity to absorb and retain information more effectively. This is primarily due to the fact that they are interacting with it on a more personal level and are able to move at their own pace. Use this article as a guide to integrate Discovery Learning into your next eLearning course and offer your learners the chance to fully engage in the learning process.

Would you like to learn more about the Discovery Learning model? Read the article Instructional Design Models and Theories: The Discovery Learning Model to explore the principles, benefits, and drawbacks of this Instructional Design approach.


  1. Bruner, J. S. (1961). "The act of discovery". Harvard Educational Review 31 (1): 21–32.